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Patents Apple

Woz and the RCA Character-generator Patent 219

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-got-patent-pending-on-that dept.
doperative writes with this quote from Steve Wozniak: "A lot of patents are pretty much not worth that much ... In other words, any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach ... And then we find out RCA has a patent on a character generator for any raster-scanned setup .. And they patented it at a time when nobody could have envisioned it really being used or anything ... and they got five bucks for each Apple II, based on this little idea that's not even an idea. Y'know: store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."
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Woz and the RCA Character-generator Patent

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  • So uhh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    A text based display would have been completely non-obvious at a time when everything was coming out on paper tapes, with maybe a 7 segment vfd here and there.

    Are you that retarded? Or that young?

    • Re:So uhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by salesgeek (263995) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:20AM (#36023210) Homepage

      You are the least insightful anonymous coward ever.

    • I agree. The patent seems appropriate for the time period. If it was so obvious to Woz, why didn't they contest the patent?
      • Re:So uhh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by k_187 (61692) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @09:10AM (#36023698) Journal
        Because there's a good chance that just paying the 5 bucks was cheaper. Wikipedia says that between 5 and 6 million Apple II's were sold. Assuming 5.5 million were sold and that all of them are affected by this patent, that's 27.5 million over 16 years as opposed to a patent lawsuit up front and missing out on the first few years of sales.
        • by jandrese (485)
          Not to mention all of the time he would have lost sitting in courtrooms instead of developing the Apple II. Apple was a little garage operation back then, it's not like they had the resources to fight against RCA.
    • Re:So uhh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by skywire (469351) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @09:08AM (#36023674)

      Often, once a question or problem arises, the answer is obvious. The problem may not be obvious; it may not yet have arisen many if any times, Nevertheless, the solution is obvious, and when presented with the problem and a description of the elements of the problem, any reasonably intelligent fifth-grader with a modicum of arithmetic skills would figure out the solution -- often the only or at least most elegant solution, the one that no-one would fail to arrive at. Such solutions are not supposed to be patentable. You are applying the obviousness test to the wrong thing.

      • Re:So uhh (Score:4, Informative)

        by rickb928 (945187) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @10:36AM (#36024730) Homepage Journal

        This, good sir, is the essence of much excellent engineering. The solution, once discovered, is obvious.

        Finding the obvious is all the work.

        And just an aside, but since titling was probably a nasty bit of work in early television, RCA would have been thinking about how to do this in a much better way than printed cards held up to the camera. RCA was inventing LCDs in 1962. A character generator concept would have been 'obvious' then, and the application to television not far behind in hindsight. Patent 33456458 was issued in 1963, patent 3426344 filed in 1967, somewhat contemporaneous with LCD development. Woz is off-base on this one. Not much, but he is off-base.

        Besides, the hope that RCA wasn't exploring television technology in the 60s is a faint hope indeed. Their LCD work was prescient, superceded only by Sharp and their success in making it commercially viable.

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        The essence of invention is 'find a problem and fix it'. That is what patents are promoting. You can't just strip off the first part (identifying a problem) and then claim the whole thing is 'obvious'.

    • by wsxyz (543068)

      Meanwhile, in 1954...

      The IBM 740 CRT output recorder was an electronic device attached to the IBM 701 Data Processing System. It provided output which recorded data points on the faces of a pair of television-like tubes ... the IBM 740 also could be used to display alphabetic characters ...

      http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/701/701_1415bx40.html [ibm.com]

      Now, the IBM 740 was a vector display device, and did not use a character generator. However, the idea of displaying text on a screen was by no means no

  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:05AM (#36023090)

    Could someone explain to me why we store twice before popping??

    "store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

    • by naz404 (1282810)
      double buffering
    • by Dan East (318230)

      That was a direct quote from Woz's keynote speech. So I think it was just his speaking style. He probably said it more like:
      "Y'know: store the bits. [pause] Store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

    • by tepples (727027)

      Could someone explain to me why we store twice before popping??

      One for the shape and the other for the color.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:15AM (#36023166)

    He might also want to have a word with his old buddy Steve Jobs too. Apple has been getting meaningless patents left and right, just like MS and all these other corps. And at least Allen and Gates are using some of their ridiculous money for charity. What exactly has Jobs been doing to innovate, or contribute to the world?

    I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

    • by smitty97 (995791) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:32AM (#36023310)

      You're right! Here's a photo of one of Allen's charities:

      http://d2omthbq56rzfx.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Megayacht-Octopus-plus-Paul-Allen.jpg [cloudfront.net]

      • by kenh (9056)

        Here's another one: Allen Institute for Brain Science [alleninstitute.org]

        And he's pledged to give away most of his money before/when he passes - that he creates jobs, has a nice ship and has and will give away BILLIONS is a problem for you, smitty97?

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

      Never criticize the boss/managers/your employers. Unless you want to be listed at the top of the list, when the next round of layoffs happen.

      ALSO not a wise idea to act as if you have nothing to do. I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Yeah, well that's why corporations suck. What should have happened was that the boss got sacked for being incompetent dead wood. Either the employee wasn't being adequately kept in the loop about what needs doing or the boss wasn't aware of dead wood, in either case the boss ought to have been terminated.

        But that rarely if ever happens because it's generally more important to subjugate the employees than for management to produce anything of value.

        • Yeah, well that's why corporations suck. What should have happened was that the boss got sacked for being incompetent dead wood. Either the employee wasn't being adequately kept in the loop about what needs doing or the boss wasn't aware of dead wood, in either case the boss ought to have been terminated.

          THIS. Your ethical behavior will result in immediate termination!
        • by blair1q (305137)

          No, it doesn't happen because no company is organized with a step that goes

          1. Ask employees if their boss is a tool.

          If you want upper management to know that middle management is fucking up, you have to have initiative outside their employee-evaluation processes.

      • by smelch (1988698)
        Well first of all I'm fairly certain Woz is not working for Steve Jobs anymore. Secondly, if you have no work to do and don't ask for me work then all you are is somebody trying to preserve their job. Sometimes the attitudes of people on here about their jobs astounds me. A bunch of the community come off as trying to preserve their jobs while doing as little work as possible. If you aren't working your hardest to make your current responsibilities obsolete, what are you doing? That kind of lazy attitude di
        • by kenh (9056)

          Woz is an employee (of sorts) at Apple:

          "Another facet of Steve Wozniak’s life that has not been mentioned is his love for education, his philanthropy, and the connection of both in his life. Wozniak states that he does continue to have a role in Apple. He says: “I have never left the company. I keep a tiny residual salary to this day because that's where my loyalty should be forever. I want to be an "employee" on the company database. I won't engineer, I'd rather be basically retired, due to my

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          >>>, if you have no work to do and don't ask for me work then all you are is somebody trying to preserve their job.

          That's true.
          On the other hand, it's still stupid to go to the boss and say, "I have nothing to do." That's like saying, "Please lay me off." It is wiser to simply wait for the next project to come-along and then you'll be busy again.

      • by gauauu (649169) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @09:03AM (#36023606)

        I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

        That's so stupid it makes me angry. You have an employee actively looking for more work to do -- why would you let that person go? That's the kind of person you want to keep around. Instead let go the lazy people who sit at their desks watching youtube videos pretending to look busy. If you're really good at getting your work done, you'll almost always run into a slow point somewhere in your job. The proper solution is to let your manager know you've churned through the current work, and then find something proactive to do until you and your manager figure out what's next. Which sounds like what this guy was doing.

        • by T Murphy (1054674)
          If you say you have nothing to do you are implying you can't find any further progress you can make on what's on your plate. If the boss looks at what you've done and isn't happy with it, you've just shown him that you don't know what quality work looks like, and that would make a good reason to be let go.

          Maybe this worker really did do a good job and was let go because the boss hates to be bothered, but a worker complaining about a lack of work isn't necessarily a good worker.
      • You are aware that Woz no longer works for Apple, right? For that matter, I am pretty sure that he either doesn't work for anyone or whoever he works for, he is more valuable as a "name" in their employ than for any work product he produces.
      • by omnichad (1198475)

        Yeah...real smart. Fire the one that's calling attention to it and wanting the work - not firing the ones who were trying to keep quiet about it

      • I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

        Maybe you have the causal relationship backwards. Perhaps things seemed "kind of slow" to this guy because he was being phased out.

    • Steve Jobs is kind of a scary guy who's filthy rich -- I think Woz is probably smart enough to know when to be quiet.
    • by Idbar (1034346) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:45AM (#36023424)
      This article seems like pure FUD. I know we all here hate the patent system, but doesn't every patent becomes "obvious" once someone invented it?

      Of course, once someone shows an invention to the world, there's no the know-how to re-produce the thing.

      On top of that, there's this Apple co-founder complaining about MS suing everyone, when Apple has been suing around all this past months. This is just an attempt to make Apple look like "good guys" and keep throwing the dirty water on MS.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Waffle Iron (339739)

        I know we all here hate the patent system, but doesn't every patent becomes "obvious" once someone invented it?

        No. For example, the Rubik's cube does not seem obvious at all, even after you've taken one apart.

        The obviousness bar needs to be set much higher for patents, so that the number of issued patents is cut to a couple of percent of the current rate, which is choking innovation and progress in many fields. I say if it's obvious in hindsight, then chances are that it's just plain obvious in general.

        In particular, the following scenario needs to be completely eliminated from the patent landscape: (1) 3rd party pu

      • by TheLink (130905)

        IMO we should abolish the patent system. It mainly rewards those who come up with obvious ideas, and cannot reward those who are really pioneers (and if they are forced to spend time patenting the thousands of obvious steps to their great leaps it actually slows them down).

        After all an idea is definitely innovative if by the time most people "get it" decades have passed so the patent has expired.

        For an example see the "Mother of all demos" stuff by Douglas Engelbart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfIgzSoTM [youtube.com]

    • by yeshuawatso (1774190) * on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:56AM (#36023520) Journal

      You know, I thought I was going to be able to challenge the remark about Jobs' philanthropic endeavors, but every time I searched, the answer was the same: he doesn't do charity. An article came close to something, but it was only how Jobs was pushing legislation for CA to require people be asked to be an organ donor when getting a license or having it renewed. I understand that this could be in some way helpful to CA residents that need transplants, but considering that Steve was a recipient of a donated organ, it only seems like he's trying to fulfill his own selfish goals of not having to fly around the country just to be put on multiple donor lists.

      Until today, I never once thought corporate social responsibility was important, even though I've spent a many nights defining such programs in college for my BBA. However, when your net worth is greater than $5 billion, you're the deity of overpriced computers, and your entire market is the upper middle to upper class who give to causes regularly, it seems like you are in the best position to find a cause that your followers can get behind and you demonstrate your leadership in helping those less fortunate than yourself. And forcing your employees to volunteer their time but you yourself are too arrogant to get off your ass and grab a trash bag to help cleanup an urban park is a slap in the face. I've never felt more disgusted writing a post from my iPad until today.

      Thank you for opening my eyes.

    • He might also want to have a word with his old buddy Steve Jobs too. Apple has been getting meaningless patents left and right, just like MS and all these other corps. And at least Allen and Gates are using some of their ridiculous money for charity. What exactly has Jobs been doing to innovate, or contribute to the world?

      I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

      Woz does criticize Apple when he thinks they have done something wrong. Sometimes he goes as far as donating money [insanely-great.com] to the legal defense of people apple sues.

    • by kenh (9056)

      I was under the impression that Allen was seeking to recoup his investments in failed technology firms - he's invested in many that failed, leaving nothing but broken dreams and patents in their wake.

      I don't think Woz was accurate in describing Allen as suing companies "because he bought all these patents'

      Allen formed companies to develop products & technologies that failed - he didn't set out to become a patent troll, though he may be exhibiting that behavior now...

      From the recent 60 Minutes Interview [cbsnews.com]:

    • Apple isn't running a patent troll shop by any stretch of the imagination. They patent their creativity embodied in real products to protect them from copy cats.

      Apple has driven the whole industry for 30 years for setting the benchmark on how we interact with devices, They have set the standard for computers, music, phones, and tablets. And the industry follows.

      The iPhone was introduced 3 years ago. For 20 years there wasn't anything like an iPhone, now every phone out there is an iPhone look alike. It is s

  • by Tapewolf (1639955) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:15AM (#36023170)

    I'd be interested to know when they filed that patent.

    The BBC had Teletext from about 1972, according to Wikipedia, which used exactly this setup. Anyone who saw the Dr. Who story "Robots of Death" (Jan 1977) or other stories from that era may have noticed the computer displays which also used teletext or a similar system. I think there were already ICs on the market to implement it for you, probably because of the teletext industry.

  • According to Wikipedia:

    By the end of production in 1993, somewhere between five and six million Apple II series computers (including about 1.25 million Apple IIGS models) had been produced.

    Not counting Apple IIGS, that is $30 million dollars in patent fees to IBM at $5 a unit.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @08:30AM (#36023298)

    RCA's patent dates to an era (1940s) when just putting an image on a screen was a challenge, and overlaying it with characters was like magic.

    They deserved the credit for putting letters on 50s-era TVs just as much as they deserved credit for developing NTSC-II (i.e. color). If you put in years of effort into experimentation, you deserve the reward of a temporary monopoly on your discovery. IMHO.

    • If you put in years of effort into experimentation, you deserve the reward of a temporary monopoly on your discovery.

      ...you mean like the way Woz put years of effort into designing his PC?

    • Look at the first computers. The CRT was used to display a pattern of dots (binary digits, in fact) and a teletype was used for the data input. They didn't even think to put new key labels and a new drum on the teletype so that you knew you were entering 00000 rather than "/", so that when they gave a lecture to the Royal Society everyone was confused by pages of completely nonobvious symbols.

      I actually once worked with an early RCA chipset for running low-res CRT images. One nice thing about it was you cou

    • by operagost (62405)
      If the patent had been from the 1940s, it would have been expired by the time the Apple II was created.
  • Battlestar Galactica (the original in 1978) had a similar thing going when the captain (Lorne Greene) would speak, the words of his journal would appear on the screen.

  • "In other words, any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach."

      I've seen them vaquish some formidable foes on AYSTAF.

  • "And they patented it at a time when nobody could have envisioned it really being used or anything ...

    Seems like it wasn't obvious, then.

    and they got five bucks for each Apple II, based on this little idea that's not even an idea. Y'know: store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

    The Apple II [wikipedia.org] originally sold for $1298 with 4k of RAM and $2638 with 48k. $5 is only .3% of the price. That doesn't seem that unreasonable.

    Also, if it was so unreasonable, and was just a little idea "that's not even an idea," why not just design around it?

    The RCA character-generator patent was an example of a patent, from Wozniak's point of view, that the aforementioned fifth-grader could have come up with. "I don't know any other way you could do it

    That's why... He couldn't come up with any other way. So, the reasonable royalty now seems really reasonable.

    • I really don't think the point is that you could easily design a different way of achieving the same thing, but that if any sensible person sat down to design a system of putting characters on a screen using technology from that era, that this is the obvious solution that they would almost certainly come up with all on their own -- even if they had no prior knowledge of the RCA patent. Therefore the patent is not a huge leap forward in engineering, it's just a bloody nuisance to the people who actually want
      • I really don't think the point is that you could easily design a different way of achieving the same thing, but that if any sensible person sat down to design a system of putting characters on a screen using technology from that era, that this is the obvious solution that they would almost certainly come up with all on their own -- even if they had no prior knowledge of the RCA patent. Therefore the patent is not a huge leap forward in engineering, it's just a bloody nuisance to the people who actually want to create stuff.

        Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering." In fact, the patent system is set up to reward public disclosure of the tiny leaps that happen every day.

        The patent system is about economic efficiency of innovation. You can spend 10 hours and come up with a new idea, and if you hide it and keep it as a company trade secret, then every other company has to do the same thing. If there's a hundred companies in the industry, that wastes 990 man hours

        • by arose (644256)

          Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering."

          It does, however, require that the invention in question be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, e.g. Woz.

          • Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering."

            It does, however, require that the invention in question be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, e.g. Woz.

            ... non-obvious at the time of invention. Woz thinking it's obvious 40 years later? Not a problem.

            • by arose (644256)
              Woz is saying it publicly 40 years later, if you know what he was thinking then though...
            • by Arlet (29997)

              No, Woz was thinking it was obvious when he designed the Apple II. It's just 40 years later when he's commenting on it.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          For this to make any financial sense for the economy as a whole, the cost of licensing the patent must be, overall, lower than the totaled cost of reinventing. Quite often the invention itself has a very low value, because the money has to be spent anyway on actually engineering it -- you know, designing the hardware and software that embodies the 'invention'. In most cases, the engineering costs overwhelm any sort of "savings" from not "reinventing".

      • by kenh (9056)

        Don Lancaster's TV Typewriter in Popular Electronics [swtpc.com]

        This was one way of putting characters on a screen in 1973 - Woz's approach simplified it substantially... (the entire Apple ][ used fewer chips ;^)

  • "Data General also contends that the Cole patent was anticipated by the prior art and by a printed publication stored at the Stanford Research Institute. Finally, Data General asserts that the Cole patent is invalid under 35 U.S.C. ? 103 because it was obvious in light of the pertinent prior art. The Court will now examine each of these challenges to Cole's validity" link [findacase.com]

  • ... do we stop glorifying formerly brilliant inventors as sages? Just because you were once brilliant does not mean everything you do is brilliant.

    I give you Donald Trump as an example. Crazy is crazy is crazy, and Woz is going grumpy senile fast. He thinks he has all the answers to children's education and now patents. So he made a successful computer. That was decades ago. Now, everytime he whines, he get's a /. story. Drop him in the spam bin already!

  • The following stuff is from Electronics magazine, Jan. 3rd 1958 issue .. Generating Characters: Summary Although may plans have been devised in the past for scribing numeric and alphabetic characters on a scope face by spot deflection" link [nixiebunny.com]

    • by idontgno (624372)
      That's vector CRT processing. The patent in question, and the technique Woz was working, is raster processing. They're not interchangeable.
  • obviousness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by robbarrett (84479) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @10:01AM (#36024290)

    As someone who has done a fair bit of inventing and patenting, I find generalized disdain for patented inventions to be a little irritating. (This is apart from arguments about whether intellectual property is a proper category or whether its legal protection is a good idea). Yes, many patents may have titles that make them sound trivial, and quick reads of them may make you snigger. But in the U.S., one criterion for ruling against patentability is that "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains" (35 U.S.C. 103 (A) [wikipedia.org]). I think most of my patent submissions have been initially rejected as "obvious" (one particularly entertaining case was a patent examiner's note that the shape of the recording elements in my magnetic head bore remarkable similarity to a piece of plastic someone had devised to keep a garden hose from snagging on the tire while you're washing your car). However, arguing against an "obviousness" claim is straightforward:

    1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;
    2. Show that engineers have attempted a variety of solutions to the known problem;
    3. Clearly explain how your own invention's method for solving the problem is different from existing solutions.

    Of course, this doesn't do anything to prove that the invention is useful, actually does solve the problem, can be reduced to practical form, etc. It just demonstrates that the invention was not obvious at the time. It also does not mean the inventor is a genius or that nobody else on the planet could come up with the solution. It just means that it may qualify to be a patentable invention.

    My own favorite case of proving non-obviousness to myself was having a renowned engineer in the field look at my proposal and tell me that he was quite sure it could not possibly work, though he could not exactly explain why. A couple of weeks later we met in the hall with him telling me that he had been intrigued enough to run simulations while I was building a prototype. We both came to the conclusion that it indeed could and did work.

    Lots of crazy stuff gets patented all the time, but the process of describing and justifying an invention as such is...not completely obvious.

    • by PPH (736903)

      1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;
      2. Show that engineers have attempted a variety of solutions to the known problem;
      3. Clearly explain how your own invention's method for solving the problem is different from existing solutions.

      And that's where most (particularly s/w) patents today fall on their face. Most of the problems are new and, given a group of competent s/w engineers, many of them could come up with similar solutions were they handed the problem simultaneously. There is no test for previous failed or less functional efforts over time followed by a novel and unique solution. Its just a race to the patent office with the obvious.

      There was never a trail of failed attempts to produce a 'One Click' shopping web app prior to Am

    • I agree that patents are good vehicles for protection of your ideas. However, I think the current controversy hinges on this:

      1. Are you contributing to a productive world and utilizing your patent to protect a device or product you or a licensee are actually making.
      2. Or are you just churning out patents for things your never intend to use, but are gambling that through law suits you can make money.

      If it is the second option, that represents a type of "anti-creativity" and "anti-productivity" that just bogs

    • by jandrese (485)
      [blockquote]1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;[/blockquote] This is the big one for me. So many outrageous patents are just people slightly ahead of the industry trying combinations of everything they can think of that's not quite practical yet and applying for a patent on the most straightforward solution.

      Hmm, my cell phone can't broadcast a picture over wireless to my TV or other screens yet, but it would be simple enough to set up with a dongle on the TV and some wifi. Lets
  • Character generators were big business for cable television operators. Before computers were so ubiquitous the need to show text on the screen was a challenge. They needed one for each channel that was to show text, especially for public access channels and their schedules. Later, special units were designed for use by The Weather Channel that would genlock and overlay the text onto the video.

    Today only a few people remember how difficult it once was to get text on a television screen. As a kid I rememb

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      Later, special units were designed for use by The Weather Channel that would genlock and overlay the text onto the video.

      I have one of those "special units" on my desk, and three more sitting in the lab. They were SGI O2s. Very expensive but very easy to do video with. A 180MHz processor could keep up with real-time video, because the video had its own hardware. There wasn't much incoming video to genlock to since the output was graphics, but genlocking to the cable clock was important to help with interference issues.

      SGI was quite proud of the fact that their hardware was sitting in a lot of cable headends.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @10:19AM (#36024512) Homepage

    RCA developed this for NBC's election returns. Election nights used to have huge rooms of electromechanical display boards. NBC wanted something better. So they had RCA develop a character generator, to be used in conjunction with election predictions made on RCA computers. "Makes your television set a part of the computer".

    Previously, there had been stroke character displays for vector CRTs. SAGE used those. There was the Charactron tube, where a focused electron beam was steered through a stencil of letters, then aimed at the screen. There was something called the Monoscope, which was a TV-camera like tube with a permanently fixed stencil as the image. There were flying-spot scanners, where you put a slide in front of a CRT, and a phototube read the changing light, generating a video signal. All these devices were either limited or expensive. (A 21-inch Charactron tube was six feet long.) Generating character video in real time, entirely electronically, was a big deal at the time.

    (I've been trying to find video on line of the NBC election coverage with this.)

    • Cole at RCA developed the technology as part of a response to an FAA RFQ (request for quote) -- the FAA wanted to display flight information on screens at airports. RCA bid on the system, relying on a design that used Cole's hardware raster scan character generator.

      Before memory prices dropped through the floor and made bit-mapped graphics standard, the 80x24 character CRT display using a hardware raster-scan character generator a la Cole was the standard. This was a long, long, time ago, back in the dar
      • "The district court found that the Cole claims in suit read on a system disclosed in German, French, and British patents issued to Dirks between 1948 and 1957, none of which were considered by the examiner during the prosecution of the Cole patent application. The district court agreed with HLA's assertion that "The Dirks system ... is the Cole system implemented in 1940's technology, and, since the Cole claims are drawn to cover all digital systems generically, as opposed to a new implementation, they are

  • It wasnt too useful if there was not place to store the character patterns. Until the price of memory fell below ten cents a bit (!!) in the early 1970s it was just too expensive to store these bits in a personal user terminal or personal computer. It takes about 2000 bits to store the printing ASCII 5x7 raster array. I was present at the transition from teletype terminals to CRT terminals at this time and the introduction of personal computers.
    • That was the beauty of the Cole patent and the raster-scan character generator chip! One chip contained the character generator ROM and the high-speed shift register, so you addressed it with the character code and the raster line and shifted out the row of bits to the CRT. You didn't have to clock your memory at the raster's bit-clock; only a portion of the raster scan character generator chip had to run that fast.

      Some of those early 80x24 CRT displays used boards full of shift registers to store chara
  • The RCA patent was known as the Cole patent -- RCA went after everybody that did raster-scan displays at the time. This patent was invalidated by the courts -- twice -- the second time it stayed dead. Apple paid some money to RCA, but that's a long story in and of itself.

    Woz had three early Apple patents -- two on the way color was generated on the motherboard, and one on the disk controller. Woz figured out how to do NTSC color video, including the color burst, with almost no parts. Woz developed an incredibly clever way to do a GCR disk controller with a few $ of parts when everybody else in the industry was doing MFM and MMFM using expensive disk controller chips.

    When Apple was faced with an onslaught of cheap clones of the Apple ][ coming in from Taiwan and Hong Kong in the early 1980's, it was the Woz patents that made the difference in protecting the Apple ][ line, and the company.
  • I'm not sure if the SWTP TV Typewriter was out before the Apple II, but it also used the same ideas for putting characters on a TV screen. So did EVERY terminal ever made from Hazeltines to DEC VT100's. Did RCA grab a chunk of their hides too? (And if RCA's patent was still good when the PC came out IBM would have had to pay them off too....except in this case they probably just cross licensed some IBM patent that RCA was in violation off).

  • "I don't know any other way you could do it – anybody would have come up with that with the same approach."

    Woz states it is an obvious method, which means the patent is invalid, right? So why were they forced to pay $5 on every Apple II again?

What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind. -- Thomas Hewitt Key, 1799-1875

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